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Coming to a High Street near you...

Date: 27/09/2016

One of four major Arts and Humanities Research Council projects, Multilingualism - Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies (MEITS)", has unveiled plans to create the UK's first ever National Museum of Languages. The new pop-up Museum of Languages will initially appear in shops on the High Street in Belfast, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Nottingham and then online.

Under the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI), the AHRC is investing in four major research programmes (over the next four-years), that aim to explore the central role languages play in relation to key contemporary issues such as social cohesion, migration, security, health, business and diplomacy; and have a substantial impact on the study of modern languages in the UK. The projects will work with over 100 partners, ranging from schools and sixth form colleges to the BBC and government departments, in the UK and internationally. The research will be undertaken across 22 languages and 18 academic disciplines.

Wendy Ayres-Bennett, Professor of French Philology and Linguistics at the University of Cambridge and Principal Investigator of the project, said: "If we are going to bring about a cultural change in the attitude towards modern languages, which is our aim, we have to have strong evidence of their value underpinned by first-class research. But we also want the MEITS project to speak not just to academics but to policymakers, practitioners and the general public too. That is why we are planning to have a pop-up National Museum of Languages in several locations in the UK, based in empty local high street shops.

"When we started, we found it very surprising that there are museums for dog collars and lawnmowers, but there is no National Museum of Languages in the UK and we thought that was a real gap. We wanted to plug that gap with a pop-up museum and give people a chance to reflect about questions around multilingualism, identity, and diversity, and about their own language skills. We will be conducting language taster sessions, and there will be an interactive dimension which will appeal to schoolchildren."

Teachers and parents will be able to bring children to the museum to find out about different languages and writing systems or how languages are being changed by new media, and there will be information about careers in languages aimed at pupils aged 10-14. Each of the shops will have displays about the importance of languages in fostering social cohesion, international relations, and well-being. Material generated by the researchers’ work with community groups, schools and visitors, such as poems by children in a home or learnt foreign language, will become part of a digital version of the museum, to which the general public will also be invited to contribute.

Professor Ayres-Bennett added: "In the UK there is a wide-spread misconception that speaking English is enough and that monolingualism is the norm. In fact, more than half of the world's population speaks more than one language on a daily basis, and in the UK nearly one in five primary school pupils has a first language other than English. Our project aims to demonstrate the value of languages both to individuals and to society, and the importance of speaking more than one language, or being multilingual.

"We will be working with non-academic partners, community groups, schools, and the general public so that we can draw as many people as possible into this exciting project. We hope MEITS will have a really transformative outcome. By demonstrating the benefits of languages to individuals and societies, we hope people will come to see multilingualism as an intrinsic and valuable part of their lives."

You can follow the project on twitter via meits_owri

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